Roscosmos, the Russian state space corporation responsible for spaceflight activities, posted photos on its official Telegram channel on Monday showing three cosmonauts with the tricolor flags of the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic.
The photos were recently taken aboard the International Space Station and show smiling cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveyev and Sergei Korsakov posing with flags.
“This is a long-awaited day that residents of the occupied territories of the Luhansk region have been waiting for eight years,” the Roscosmos message said. “We believe that July 3, 2022, will go down in the history of the Republic forever.”
The images and social media postings represent the most obvious use of the International Space Station—which is operated by the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and the European Space Agency—for Russian propaganda purposes since the invasion of Ukraine.
Luhansk and Donetsk are two separate “quasi-states” in the eastern region of Ukraine known as Donbass. Ukraine and Russia have fought in the two regions since 2014, as Russia has agitated separatists in Ukrainian territory. The United Nations does not recognize the two “republics” and Ukraine has designated them as “temporarily occupied territories”. The fighting has intensified since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Last weekend, the Russian military claimed to have gained control of the entire Luhansk region.
a professional relationship
NASA and Roscosmos, as well as other space agencies, have continued to collaborate on the International Space Station since the invasion began. Some US officials have suggested that NASA should consider severing ties with Russia in space because of the atrocities in Ukraine. However, the space agency’s administrator has defended the partnership on the grounds that the station flies above geopolitical tensions on Earth. NASA also wants to continue flying the station, because breaking the American segment from the Russian segment would be difficult and potentially fatal to the orbital facility’s operations.
In an interview published Monday in the German publication Der Spiegel, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson reiterated this stance.
“In the midst of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union and the United States were mortal enemies and their nuclear weapons could be used at any time, in 1975 an American and a Soviet spacecraft met in space,” Nelson said. “Peaceful cooperation continued even after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Our spacecraft docked with the Russian space station Mir. And then we decided to build the International Space Station together. Both countries needed to operate, the Russians. For the propulsion, the Americans for power. We will continue to have a very professional relationship between the astronauts and the astronauts to keep this station alive.”
Yet this weekend’s provocative action by Roscosmos, celebrating the so-called liberation of Ukrainian territory with its astronauts, brings the bloody conflict on Earth to space. For some observers, such as former NASA astronaut Terry Wirts, the use of Russia’s space station for propaganda purposes is unacceptable.
“I am incredibly disappointed to see cosmonauts and Roscosmos using the International Space Station as a platform to promote their illegal and immoral warfare, where civilians are killed every day,” Wirts said, Who flew side by side with the Russians and commanded the space station. in 2015. “The space station is considered a symbol of peace and cooperation.”
Wirts said NASA is largely trying to look the other way when it comes to Russian actions, especially when it comes to Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin, who has made several linguistic statements about the war. But in this case, he said, the agency can’t really afford.
NASA’s collaboration with Russia could come into greater public focus in a few months. Currently, a NASA astronaut named Frank Rubio is scheduled to fly to the station in September in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Around the same time, a Russian cosmonaut named Anna Kikina is due to fly to the station as part of a seat swap on a SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle. This arrangement has not been formally agreed upon by the US and Russian governments.
In his German interview, Nelson defended the swap, saying, “It means a lot to us. You need both a Russian and an American to operate the space station. What if there’s something wrong with one of our spacecraft.” Will? We need another vehicle as back-up. And that’s why we will continue to have crew exchange.”
However, such an argument may soon become hollow. Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft could make its first crewed test flight before the end of this year, and if it is successful NASA will have two US spacecraft capable of reaching the station.